One Kick At A Time|
Donnie Carona has had a memorable senior season with the Red Raiders
Nov. 11, 2011
by Britton Drown
It was early on a Saturday morning as Tommy Tuberville patiently paced about the visiting locker room of Darrel K. Royal Texas-Memorial Stadium. Tucked deep inside the mammoth stadium, all that hung on the walls of the bare room was a small digital clock.
In sync with Tuberville's anxious strides, the bright yellow lights ticked down...5:15, 5:14, 5:13...a steady reminder of the approaching kickoff.
The music, once bouncing off the walls of the small room, fell silent moments earlier. Tuberville's players sat quietly, cleats nervously tapping on the ground as they waited for their head coach to gather the team for one final meeting before walking out of the tunnel, and onto the field hosting a crowd of more than 100,000.
Senior kicker Donnie Carona was one of those players. That Saturday morning marked his 48th career game as a Red Raider. Nobody in the locker room had played in as many games as Carona.
He understood the routine.
As the clock fell under four minutes, team chaplain Steve Grant gathered the Red Raiders together for the pre-game prayer. Amongst all of the chaos that surrounds a Saturday morning in the heart of the football season, this was the moment that Carona had grown to appreciate. It calmed him.
"You ask God to kind of calm your nerves," Carona said. "You can kind of feel it."
Together, they circled around Grant, locked arms and bowed their heads. The room drew still as Grant led the team in a peaceful message.
"We thank you that you have prepared us for this moment," Grant said. "You have showed us what to do, and how to do it."
In the midst of the group, Carona knelt with his head bowed. He had learned how to prepare for games, and to him this was a pivotal moment in that process.
"We've done it," Grant continued. "And God, We are going to do it again. In your name, Amen."
Throughout his four-year career, this moment of prayer has served as a time where all of his nerves, his trepidation of potentially kicking in front of a large crowd, or in a crucial game, are washed away.
That approach has led Carona to an unforgettable senior season with the Red Raiders. The Beaumont, Texas native has connected on 12-of-16 field goals, seven of which have come from beyond 40-yards. Against Texas A&M on Oct .9 he connected on 4-of-5 field goals, including two from 49-yards out. The four field goals tied the single-game school record.
"It means a lot," Carona said. "I know there is something special with this team and beating Oklahoma [41-38 on Oct. 22] shows what we have and can be. I knew it was a big year, and it means a lot to be able to help the team out."
Carona's 12 field goals this season are the most through nine games by a Red Raider kicker in over 11 years. The senior needs only six more to break the school record for field goals in a single season.
Yes, it's been both a special season and career for Carona, but it took some adjustments during his freshman year for the now veteran kicker to develop into the player that he is.
Carona attended Mosignor Kelly High School, a small Catholic school just 10 minutes west of Beaumont with an enrollment of around 450 students. There, he was a standout athlete playing both linebacker and running back and was ranked the No. 7 kicking prospect by Scout.com. However, once he arrived at Texas Tech, he knew the adjustment to playing Big 12 football wouldn't be an easy one.
"Being 18-years-old and coming from a small private high school and playing in front of 60,000 to 100,000 people, it's different," Carona said. "Kicking is 80 percent mental, so you don't do things you would usually do."
He earned the starting kicking duties during his freshman season in 2008, mostly due to his ability to hit long field goals. As he had feared, the transition was a difficult one, and he had connected on just 4 of 9 field goal attempts and missing four extra points just nine games into the season. Carona was replaced in favor of walk-on Matt Williams midway through Big 12 play.
It was a move that was difficult for the freshman kicker to grasp, but Carona also knew it was an opportunity for him to focus on improving his metal approach.
"I knew I still had things to do," Carona said.
Carona's duties were limited to the kickoff team for the remainder of his freshman year. He was limited to long-range field goal kicking duties, and didn't attempt another kick until the 2010 season. He went just 1-of-4 that year, his junior campaign, connecting on a 52-yard attempt against Weber State. The 52-yard field goal was a career long.
As a veteran heading into spring workouts this year, Carona knew he had a chance to make his senior season special.
"I knew it was my job to lose," he said. "I worked really hard in the spring and the summer with the kicking coaches, and I just knew it was my time."
When the season opened, he connected on six of his first eight attempts and hit 4-of-5 field goal attempts against Texas A&M on Oct. 8. where tied a single game school record.
It's certainly been a special season for the senior kicker, and now, 48 games into his career, Carona smiles when he looks back onto his career as a Red Raider. He's overcome adversity, and in doing so placed his name in the record books.
"I've learned something in every single game," he said. "That has definitely made me into the player that I am today. It's just neat to be able to have those different teammates throughout the years."
On Saturday, Carona will play in his final game at Jones AT&T Stadium as a Red Raider, and it's a game he said he will certainly soak in. He will serve as the place kicker in the games opening kickoff, booting his 60th kickoff of the season and 317th of his career. Meanwhile, he'll continue to chase the single-season field goal record.
But above all, he will close one significant chapter of his career at Jones AT&T Stadium as his senior year draws to a close in the final month of the regular season.
"Going into it, no matter what happens I just want to have fun because it's the last time to play in front of these people and play with your friends," Carona said. "I got to meet a lot of people and play with a lot of people. That will always mean a lot to me."